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Public wi-fi network plan for Brighton and Hove
Shoppers, businesses and tourists could soon be logging online in the street as part of plans to create a public wi-fi network.
Brighton and Hove City Council wants to rent its lampposts, benches and buildings to a private firm to set up a “metro wireless” broadband network.
As well as boosting the city’s growing digital industry, town hall bosses believe it would make it more attractive to visitors and get more residents online.
It is also a cornerstone of Brighton and Hove’s bid to the Government for £3.3 million to set up ultrafast broadband in the city centre.
Council leader Jason Kitcat said: “What the wireless network will bring to the city is far wider coverage for those working, living and visiting the city.
“It will have a huge impact not only for the growing digital industry but also those that do business digitally.”
Thousands of people currently access the internet on the move on their smartphones and other devices by 3G and 4G, which connects via phone masts.
However, Coun Kitcat said many mobile phone companies preferred to set up wi-fi networks in urban areas as it is cheaper and avoids having to get planning permission for masts.
He added that it also meant users could have quicker and easier access while allowing them to download larger files.
Coun Kitcat said he hoped there would be some form of free access for all but added this would have to be discussed with the successful bidders.
A deal could be in place in March with the seafront, major tourist destinations and main retail areas likely to be the first to be connected.
Phil Jones, of Wired Sussex, said: “From a digital business point of view, a better wi-fi service in the city is a necessity, and that’s why it was included in the recent ultrafast broadband bid.
“These days business doesn’t stop when you leave the office, and a number of reports have pointed out how prevalent flexible work models are in Brighton’s digital sector and how significant the skilled freelance community here is to the health of our economy.”
The deal, which will be discussed by the council’s policy and resources committee on Thursday, would see the council enter into an agreement with a private firm which would install the equipment and run the network.
In return the local authority would receive income from renting out its property and a percentage of the profits.
Coun Kitcat said it was more risky for the local authority to try to set up its own network.
Up to £15,000 will be spent on hiring consultants to help with the scheme.
He added: “We may not be first to do this but sometimes it is advantageous to watch what others do.”
Labour councillor Gill Mitchell said: “This is exactly the sort of thing that the council should be doing by using its assets to lever in additional investment and boost the local economy.”
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